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Friday, August 12, 2005
Surprise Endings
USA Today has a long article today about movies with surprise or twist endings--such as The Sixth Sense, Million Dollar Baby (which I've not yet seen so please if you've seen it, don't clue me in!) and today's release of The Skeleton Key.

The article talks about how The Skeleton Key is using the twist ending as a selling point to get the masses into the theaters. It also talks about how the ending is easily found on-line on certain web sites--even before the movie was released. Reading the article, I got to thinking about movies with surprise twists and turns that I've seen.

I remember hearing the buzz about The Sixth Sense a couple of years ago and anxiously wanting to see it before someone told me what the twist was. I was fortunate that I did get to see it before anyone could tell me, though I did spend a lot of the movie trying to second-guess the film and wondering "Is that the surprising twist?" (Seeing it in theaters, I assumed the twist was the ghosts were around becuase they had something final to say...not what the eventual twist turned out to be). I like that M. Night Shamalyan had constructed the movie so that it not only had the good twist but it held up well upon repeat viewings. And, to be quite honest, I think Shamalyan has been chasing the success of the Sixth Sense ever since. I saw The Village on DVD and while it was good, it felt like he was trying too hard to shock and surprise us with something...

In a lot of cases, it's hard to go into certain films and not know the key plot element these days...or the twist. I saw Citizen Kane for the first time knowing Rosebud was the sled we see in the beginning, for example. And certainly Psycho has been sent-up so many times in other films that the twists in the ending aren't really all that huge a shock.

I just wonder if it's possible to pull a true surprise ending these days or have something go out and be a total secret until a film or TV show is released to the general public. Empire Strikes Back did it, with audiences not knowing until the movie premiered that Darth Vader would reveal he was Luke's father. But could it be done today with the Internet and the leaks of SPOILER info and scripts making the rounds on fan web sites?

As I ponder this, I'm reminded of a couple things.

The first is how Joss Whedon is the master of the SPOILER grape-vine. Back when Buffy was in its second season, it was leaked out that one of the "Scooby gang" would betray Buffy. This led to rampant speculation on-line about who it would be and why. And Joss made some cryptic comments at the time in a board that led you to believe that no doubt it had to be Xander. Xander would betray Buffy because he was jealous of her relationship with Angel. In the context of how things were unfolding, it made sense. And then we got to "Surprise" and "Innocence" and Joss pulled a fast one. It wasn't Xander who betrayed Buffy..it was Angel. I can remember this wonderful two parter airing for the first time (part two aired on my b'day) and being floored at how good it was. And how Joss had duped us all. He did a simliar thing a few years later in season five when he hinted that every major villain the show had seen would come back for the end of season five and isntead took the storyline in a totally different direction.

I love it when the creators pull a fast one on us. It reminds me of the story around Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. When Khan was going into production, Gene Roddenberry found out that the producers intended to kill off Spock to end the film. Roddenberry disagreed with this decision and thought he'd call their bluff. He leaked the information to the fan clubs who got up in arms about it. Rampant specualation abounded as the movie got closer and closer.

Finally, it premiered and Spock died..in the first ten minutes. As did most of the rest of the crew. But it was a "test." It wasn't real. At this point, as a movie goer, you assume this is what Roddenberry saw and took out of context. Yo u could then relax because "oh, Spock 'died' so let's move on with the rest of the movie." Then when Spock does bite it in the final reel, it comes as a complete shock.

Quite frankly Star Trek II is a better movie for how it addressed that particular issue.

(Of course, you have to understand Star Trek II is in my top five of all-time great films, so I'm biased here...just a bit!)

I can tell you that the first time I see a movie or a TV show, I prefer to not know every possible twist and turn of it all. I've met people over the years who are what I'd call SPOILER-whores..they want to know everything that is going to happen in a movie or tv show or book before they sit down to watch or read it. Which makes me wonder--what's the point of watching or reading? Part of the fun for me is to discover what happens in the course of the show. I love Lost, but how much fun would it be to know all the solutions before I've encountered all the mysteries? Isn't part of the fun being in the dark on these things?

posted by Michael Hickerson at 8/12/2005 01:47:00 PM | |
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